September 14, 2009 New York
This collection, which married primitivism to the sisters' ongoing interest in futurism, was one of Rodarte's most fully realized. If the silhouettes were familiar, the awe-inspiring construction of the garments represented the apotheosis of the techniques—in knitwear, printing, draping, and pastiche—that the Mulleavys have been refining season after season. Or, as Laura put it: "We ruined everything." In other words, they aged, painted, burned, shredded, sandpapered, and otherwise destroyed all of the materials—including grungy scraps of plaid, plastic, cheesecloth, wool cobweb, crystals, macramé, leather, and more—until they bore only traces of what they had been originally. (Even their footwear collaborator Nicholas Kirkwood's vertiginous heels are now so extravagantly studded that they barely resemble shoes—as a couple of teetering models discovered to their peril.)
The idea that someone could "be scarred and still beautiful" was the collection's leitmotif, and it was about as far from some banal notion of "tribal fashion" as you could get. So where did this hallucination originate? A trip to Death Valley, and a corresponding obsession with singed land (which there is sadly too much of in California lately), sparked the sisters' imagination. That somehow evolved into a tale, part Mad Max, part Tim Burton, of a woman burned alive who is transformed into a California condor (you begin to appreciate Gordon's point). Forced to scavenge for existence in a barren, war-torn landscape, she pieces together her attire from rags that, as Laura Mulleavy pointed out, only serve to expose her wounds. It's not exactly a good-night story—but it's a powerful one, and it was expertly told to a rapt and ever more adoring audience.